Creative Connections: Nottingham

National Portrait Gallery

Creative Connections: Nottingham

Commissioned in partnership with Nottingham Contemporary and the Farnborough Academy in Clifton, Nottingham.

Creative Connections, Nottingham, was a National Portrait Gallery commission in partnership with Nottingham Contemporary and the Farnborough Academy in Clifton, Nottingham.

Katherine worked with students from the school, to create new responses to the National Portrait Gallery’s Collection and explore perceptions of identity, pride and place. The project was aimed to inspire young people, broaden and raise their aspirations, promote pride in their local neighbourhood, challenge negative perceptions and support the development of creative skills.

Katherine shaped the project by working closely with the students, teaching photography history and skills, working with local archives and researchers, as well as producing a body of new photographic work. Images and stories of historical inspirational people connected to the place from the collection at of the National Portrait Gallery were used as a starting point to which the young people were invited to respond.  

The estate, which was built in the early 1950s, was once the largest in Europe. From the very early days it was maligned unfairly and negative perceptions by many outsiders and media still persist. The project sought to address these perceptions and presents Clifton Estate as a vibrant and supportive community.

See the journey on the Creative Connections Nottingham blog

Two women wearing aprons and serving food through a serving hatch
Image of terraced housing showing one house with stone cladding and another pink
Many holding up a caged bird
Image of semi detached housing
Woman holding up a caged bird
Image of terraced housing with a green in the foreground
Woman holding up hand weights
Image of a small block of flats with a tree outside and blossom on the ground
Young boy in white football kit
Girl in Beavers uniform looking proud
Boy in scout uniform looking proud
Image of a pathway between housing
Woman with crafts laid out in front of her
Image of semi detached housing
Woman in a gardening shed on the Clifton community gardens
Image of a children's playground with semi detached housing in the background
Image of a row of shops with a chip shop in the foreground


The resulting body of work was exhibited at Nottingham Contemporary, 19 July to 31 August 2017 and at National Portrait Gallery, 4 October to 25 February 2018.

The estate was built with few community facilities and residents soon acquired former wooden workman’s sheds in which to organise social activities. One of the shed’s would double as a church, youth club and venue to screen films. These venues were central to the foundations of the community. The installation at Nottingham Contemporary, uses these shed’s as the inspiration for the installation.

Project background

The 1947 Planning Act gave planning decisions to local authorities with the aim that “all the land of the country is used in the best interests of the whole people” and to create housing that everyone could afford. Nottingham City Council’s plan for Clifton Estate was progressive and ambitious. 6,828 houses for 30,000 residents were built between 1951 and 1958 – making it one of the biggest housing estates in Europe. It was designed with wide streets, spacious houses, large gardens, trees and woodlands.

Early residents moved to the area long before there were roads. With limited facilities, poor transport links and no bridge across the River Trent until 1958, there was initially a sense of isolation. People began to campaign for local services and to set up their own social, sports and health groups. These same clubs still form an important focal point for the community.

In 1951, the community acquired a large wooden hut for church services, film shows, youth clubs and Sunday schools. In 1952, the community came together again to self-build St Francis Church, now sadly derelict.

Most of the early residents were young families. Thousands of children became teenagers at the same time. Without youth facilities, some tensions arose. Teenagers complained of Clifton being boring. Youth leaders and mothers mobilised and campaigned for more. Now there are several community centres and a youth club, but a sense of more needed for young people remains.

The estate has had to battle misconceptions; in 1958, a TV documentary called “Paper Talk” portrayed the estate as a “soulless heartless dormitory”. Residents were outraged, particularly as they had taken part in good faith. In response, a local newspaper was set up and an extensive survey conducted to challenge the documentary.

The community in Clifton is resourceful and self-sufficient. Every day, volunteers run a whole host of activities and events to support and bring people together, creating and sustaining a sense of community, so important to well-being.

Creative Connections is generously supported by the Palley Family.

Creative Connections, devised by the National Portrait Gallery, was launched in 2012. So far, the project has taken place over four London borough schools. This is the first time the project has moved to a national platform outside of London. The project is designed to inspire young people, raise aspiration and pride of their local neighbourhood and support their creative skills development.

  • Installation shots and exhibition design by Nicky Doyle, Odessa Design
  • Launch night photos courtesy of Sam Kirby
  • Shed photo courtesy Ron Moseley
  • Crowd shot of British Legion courtesy of Bill Turton
  • Eric Irons & family, the first black British magistrate, courtesy of Paul Irons
Please respect the copyright in these images and only use them with my permission - thank you. Katherine